CCHE approves the unavoidable

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education Thursday unanimously approved a 2012-13 allocation of state funding to colleges and universities that’s 5.7 percent below current levels.

Colorado college campus montage
From left, the campuses of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Auraria Higher Education Center.
While the legislative Joint Budget Committee and the full legislature can change the allocation, the formula may well hold because of one key fact – it was pre-approved by leaders of all the state’s colleges and system.

Allocation of state funds by campus is a perennially contentious process because every college president thinks his or her campus needs more money or isn’t treated fairly by a particular formula. In past years the commission has had to forge compromise among competing allocation plans advocated by different groups of state colleges and systems. Occasionally that lobbying has spilled into the legislative session as college leaders tried to influence JBC decisions.

But this year, faced with the inevitability of another round of budget cuts, college leaders and Department of Higher Education staff hammered out an agreement before Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 2012-13 proposed budget was finalized. (The governor unveiled his budget earlier this week, setting up the commission vote.)

That process produced “something that is very unusual – a letter signed by all of them,” noted Lt. Gov. Garcia, who’s also director of DHE.

Matt Gianneschi, Garcia’s deputy, stressed the presidents’ agreement “is not a recommendation of satisfaction” with the amount of support.

Institutions would receive a total of $489.7 million next year, down from the current $519 million and down 30.6 percent from the recent high of $706 million in 2009-10. The totals include funds for Aims Community College and Colorado Mountain College, which aren’t directly controlled by the state, and for vocational schools. (See bottom of article for chart listing allocations by school and system.)

Under the agreement, allocation discussions would reopen “If changes in state revenue levels require substantial additional reductions,” in the words of the presidents’ letter.

State support has dropped to about a quarter of higher education revenue, with the majority of funding now coming from ever-rising tuition. On average statewide, resident undergraduate students probably can expect 9 percent increases in 2012-13, although rates will vary by campus.

The money will be allocated to institutions through a complex formula based on past cuts and on an institution’s ability to raise other revenues. Such a formula was used to award allocations for the current budget. A third element of the formula allocates $7.5 million based on enrollment growth. Some $10 million was used for enrollment compensation this year.

A second key element of Hickenlooper’s proposed higher ed budget is cutting state funding for financial aid to about $70 million from this year’s $100 million.

Matt Gianneschi
Matt Gianneschi / File photo
While that cut has raised concerns in some quarters, Gianneschi pointed out that the state provides only 5 percent of the total aid available to students at state colleges and universities. The federal government and the institutions provide the bulk.

The rationale behind the governor’s plan, Gianneschi said, is that imposing the whole budget cut on institutions and sparing financial aid would have threatened colleges’ ability to provide the levels of student support required by their financial accountability plans. (Those so-called FAPs also are the documents that detail individual college plans for future tuition rates. Links to FAPs.)

Commission member Regina Rodriguez asked, “How much does this translate into a decrease for the individual student?”

Gianneschi said, “We don’t yet know because we’ll have to see what enrollments look like,” adding “the reduction may be along the lines … say $300 to $350 per student.”

He also said that allocating a smaller number of dollars among more students might require a “counter-intuitive” allocation of financial aid, like directing a smaller share to low-income students, who are eligible for federal aid, and a larger share to middle-income students, who can’t get federal support.

The commission has the sole power to allocate state financial aid among institutions (including private and for-profit colleges) and will decide in a few months how to divvy up 2012-13 aid.

There’s been no prior agreement among institutions on allocation of aid, and some DHE staffers privately expect sharp-elbow lobbying by college leaders, even though the amount of money involved is relatively small.

All the talk about budget cuts prompted CCHE member David Edwards to ask, “Are we seeing signs yet of diminished quality?”

Gianneschi replied, “We can say that the quality that existed prior to the recession has been maintained, but we’re now starting to face the question” of future decline.

Garcia added, “Colorado is often held up as an example of how to do more with less” in higher education. “It’s not possible to continue that way forever.”

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Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.